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GM Shows Off $130M Warren Data Center, Plans $258M Center In Milford

WARREN -- General Motors showed off a new $130 million data center in Warren Monday and announced plans to spend $258 million to build another one in Milford.

The data centers are part of current GM management's belief that world-class companies own and operate their own IT -- they don't outsource it.

GM held a tour of both its new in-house development center and its data center in Warren Monday.

At a press conference during the tour, GM CEO Dan Akerson said that when GM outsourced its IT to Electronic Data Systems in the 1980s, it was an era of clay modeling, slide rules and typing pools. Now, every facet of the car business is wired and involves IT. And that means to be a top company, "you have to have a core competency in IT. You have to own it, and you have to control it."

Added Akerson: "It's the end of the outsourced model. We're creating a team that is concentrating on driving our business 100 percent of the time."

GM is in the process of hiring 10,000 in-house IT employees, taking jobs back from outsourcers. About 1,400 of them will work in the Warren center. About 35 percent of those 10,000 hires will be recent college graduates. Another 2,500 are former staff of Hewlett-Packard (which bought EDS), mostly in Michigan.

Besides Warren, GM is also building development centers in Austin, Texas, Roswell, Ga. (a suburb of Atlanta) and Chandler, Ariz. (a suburb of Phoenix).

Akerson and GM CIO Randy Mott said the in-house data centers and app development staff will make GM a faster, smarter, nimbler car company.

"Having a single nerve center for our global operations will get newer vehicle designs and technologies into our customers' hands quicker and improve the bottom line," said GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson. "IT is back home where it should be, and it further drives unnecessary complexity from our businesses while improving our operational efficiency and better supporting our business strategy."

And Akerson predicted that "if people think they have seen a new GM in the past three years, they ain't seen nothin' yet."

Mott said bringing the operations in-house replaces 35 different outsourcing agreement that meant "35 processes, 35 sets of tools, 35 handoffs," and much more chance for misunderstanding or error.

And Mott said GM's recruitment effort involves convincing young people that GM is building cool products and that they have a chance to get in on the ground floor of the complete transformation of a major American company.

"My experience is that most IT pros get excited about delivering value and having a sense of accomplishment," Mott said. "Folks want to create something, to build something, to be part of something that matter. To be able to design, build and sell great cars is pretty cool, and it's something most people can get their heads around. They also have the chance to be in on the ground floor of changing something in a total transformation."

Gov. Rick Snyder, on hand for the grand opening, praised the opening as another example that there's no "new economy" any more -- there's one economy, that revolves around high tech.

The development teams in Warren work on software to help manufacturing processes and communication between GM and its suppliers and among GM divisions internally. (Software inside the vehicle remains the purview of GM engineering.) During the tour, reporters saw IT development teams working on software analyzing parts that broke down during warranty to improve manufacturing processes among GM and its suppliers.

GM touted its agile development skills, saying quality asurance and testing of applications was built in to the development process.

The beautiful developer offices in Warren, formerly used by GM's Cadillac office operations, feature work spaces that look like a coffee shop with booths -- booths that have a 42-inch TV on the wall so workers can hook up their laptops and share their work with development teams.

GM is also beefing up its in-house training for all these new IT workers. Training manager Dennis Popeil said new hires from major tech universities around the country start their GM careers with a five-week boot camp. They get an overview of GM's IT needs and philosophies the first two weeks, then move on to one of three tracks for the final three weeks -- Java development, c# or .Net development, or enterprise data warehouse development.

GM offers its IT workers 1,200 Web-based courses in IT certifications, Web design, network and security concerns, project effectiveness, software development, operating system and server technologies, enterprise resource planning, enterprise database systems and more.

Other projects handled by the teams included:
* Crash test simulations enabled by super-computing generate data that is analyzed and applied in vehicle design and development or refinement of safety technologies, saving $350,000 for each physical crash test avoided.
* An application that enables Global Product Development teams to make tooling payments to suppliers at key points throughout the development cycle helps suppliers prioritize the timing of critical parts and reduce overall engineering expenses by millions.
* Chevrolet tracked sales data of last year's Impala in markets where car buyers traded in non-GM models, enabling a jump-start to sales of the new 2014 Impala in markets where it previously underperformed.

After the press conference, GM offered a tour of its huge new data center, controlled by a 5,040-square-foot IT Operations and Command Center that has 48 work stations and a 955-square-foot video wall composed of 28 configurable screens that monitor data use across operations around the clock.

The command center can monitor and control IT functions at all 121 GM plants around the globe as well as its four major engineering centers -- not to mention IT products and services supplied to 17,000-plus GM dealers.

The data center offers four levels of redundancy on its electric power and three levels of redundancy on its data connectivity. Backup power between the grid and redundant huge diesel generators is provided by huge, 15,000-pound flywheels rather than batteries.

The overall data center is 93,400 square feet in size, including four "data halls" of 10,000 square feet each. One of the four halls is up and operating; a second is under construction, and the other two are reserved for future expansion. Its modular layout lets GM more than 140 servers in a day.

GM already has three petabytes of data storage at the site -- that's 3,000 gigabytes.

When it's fully built out, the data center will be home to 36,800 servers. And it'll have an eight-terabyte fiber optic data connection to the other major data center in Milford.

As for that Milford data center, GM said it would spend $100 million to build it and another $158 mllion to equip it.

GM said the Milford location was chosen because it is more than 25 and less than 50 miles from Warren, allowing "mirrored" data, so if one facility is off line for any reason, the other will have the same data available without interruption.

"It's all about reducing risk and making sure no one event would affect both centers at the same time," said Curt Loehr, GM Information Technology project manager. "Each Center has its own utility feed using separate paths to provide uninterrupted power.  We even checked weather data going back a half century and Warren and Milford are affected by separate weather patterns."

GM is saving money by having the data centers on existing campuses, which have negotiated bulk utility rates, existing infrastructure and security.

At the peak of the project there will be 350 skilled trades' workers on site. More than 95 percent of the construction jobs will come from southeast and central Michigan.

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